Scottish Sport in the UK Web Archive
By Trevor Thomson, Curator, National Library of Scotland
The latest in the #WebArchiveSummerOfSport series on the amazing range of UK sport that has been collected in the UK Web Archive.
It’s difficult to ignore; millions participate and tens of millions watch - sport is one of Britain’s national passions and to many is an obsession. This love for playing and watching sport is reflected in the proliferation of websites dedicated to everything from humble clubs to massive governing bodies running sports worth billions.
High profile to Grass roots
The big organisations, of course, already have a high profile but websites for minority sports or clubs at grass roots level are less likely to get much publicity. Their online presence becomes the record of their existence, what they do, and how they have performed. While once upon a time clubs might have produced a small book, perhaps to mark a centenary or significant success, many more are now continually updating their histories creating an ongoing narrative of their activities.
In modern times Scots participate in all sorts of sport. However, there are some games that are particularly associated with Scotland, and therefore have attracted concentrated activity in terms of website collection – golf, shinty, curling, Highland games and football.
Golf in Scotland is so old it seems that there are ongoing disagreements about exactly how and where it started. St. Andrews in Fife, Musselburgh in East Lothian, and Leith Links now in Edinburgh, all make claims of great age, first formalised courses or original set of rules. What these places all have in common is that they are on the East Coast of Scotland and it is these links courses almost synonymous with Scottish golf. However, just about every town and lots of smaller places in Scotland has at least one golf course, as the exercise to identify the relevant websites proved – 683 separate websites mainly for clubs, but also for national and local associations, courses, the history of golf as well as golf news and marketing. However, a site like Forgotten Greens shows that an established game like golf was once even more widespread in the country of its foundation.
If early pictures of golf are anything to go by, a caman (a stick for playing shinty) looks remarkably like a primitive golf club – there the similarity ends, for shinty is a team sport a bit like hockey, but much more like its Irish cousin hurling. Played with the caman and hard ball akin to a baseball, camans fly in shinty as the ball can be controlled in the air, so, to an outsider, the game can look incredibly dangerous. Mainly, but not exclusively, played in the Highlands and West Coast of Scotland, shinty was formalised by its governing body The Camanachd Association in 1893 – and its location in the less populated areas of Scotland means that it is represented in the Web Archive by a relatively small number of sites, a small but elegant fifty-nine, including the Camanachd Association’s own site which has much about the development of the game, as well as sections for women’s and school’s shinty.
While shinty is very Scottish, curling is both international and very Scottish – teams from around the world compete in the Olympic and World Championship events, with Canada being fairly dominant and notable successes by Sweden and Switzerland. However, it must be one of the few sports that Scotland can claim to have recently been World Champions – and it is a game that has been formalised in Scotland for centuries. For example, the claim for the oldest curling club goes to Kilsyth Curling Club (who in keeping with their foundation in 1716, don’t actually have a website), and there are many others older than the governing body, the Royal Caledonian Curling Club (RCCC), a relative arriviste having been formed in 1838. The great age of these clubs suggests that Scottish winters must have delivered frozen ponds and lochs on a regular basis for the sport to flourish; and while outdoor curling is not a thing of the past, it is mainly played in purpose built rinks and ice arenas throughout Scotland.
Given the relatively small number of these rinks, there are an incredible number of curling clubs in Scotland – 584 listed on the RCCC website (although today they are less romantically known as Scottish Curling). While not every club has a website, at least 300 do, and those that do not are represented on provincial sites. However, looking at all this material shows that one of Scotland’s older sports is still thriving and its players are ranked among the best in the world.
Perhaps the most traditional of Scottish sports websites cover Highland Games. Part summer community event, part cultural festival, ‘games’ covers more than just the stereotyped heavy events like caber toss or stone put, as featured on the box of a famous brand of porridge. The events tend to be bespoke for the particular games, but will usually include athletics, bagpiping competitions and Highland dance - indeed, in Scotland, Highland dance is affiliated to the central sports agency Sport Scotland. The non-sport element is perhaps why such events are often known as ‘Highland Gatherings’, which also has connotations of the clan.
Healthy at home (at least until a pandemic came along) Highland games are also one of Scotland’s cultural exports, delivered by the Scots diaspora particularly in North America and Australia/New Zealand, but also making an appearance in places like Brazil and the Czech Republic – of course websites for overseas games elude us, unless we ask for owners’ permission to make copies. However, when collating a list of Highland Games in Scotland, it is notable, as mentioned, that they are not always games nor are they always Highland, with events staged in places like North Berwick (East Lothian) or Ardrossan (North Ayrshire) – around 80 websites have been collected specifically about Highland games/gatherings in Scotland.
As noted, organised sport in Scotland has incredibly deep roots thanks in part to our English neighbours. Indeed, during the current festival of international football, it is worth noting that the first international match was staged at the West of Scotland Cricket Club in Glasgow in 1872 – like the recent clash, an inconclusive 0-0 draw. Despite Scotland’s relatively humble status in the professional game, football is incredibly popular all over the country, with hundreds of clubs playing a bewildering number of local leagues and tournaments, from Shetland to the Rhins of Galloway.
The senior clubs’ websites were easy to identify as were reasonably large teams playing in amateur, junior (‘junior’ in this context means ‘not senior’ as opposed to young people) and grass roots levels. However, just about everywhere in Scotland has a football club, often changing names and rebranding over time - the consequence is that there are hundreds of sites for obscure clubs all over the country.
The effort also helps capture the underrepresented area of women’s football - most sizeable clubs have a women’s section, but there are numerous clubs that have been established specifically for women and girls, while the work of the Scottish football authorities are captured in their site and the women’s leagues in Scotland.
So, thousands of sites have been found and included in the UK Web Archive relating to Scottish sport, an ongoing record of sport and its vagaries over time. While this has a direct benefit of creating a sports archive, looking in detail for this kind of material uncovers other organisational sites related to places in Scotland that would otherwise be difficult to find. And of course the sports team might be the only representation of a place, worth recording to put it on the map. The popularity of Scottish sports all over the country draws out the ongoing life of communities and their histories.